Program evaluation in Social work: Transformative paradigm


  1. Introduction
  2. Paradigms
  3. Ontology (Reality)
  4. Epistemology (Knowledge)
  5. Methodology (Systematic Inquiry)
  6. Lenses 
  7. Critical Race Theory
  8. Feminist theory 
  9. Queer/LGBTQ theory 
  10. Government requirements
  11. Types of evaluation


Incorporating social justice into evaluation requires the transformative paradigm. The transformative paradigm, according to Donna Mertens, "focuses primarily on the perspectives of marginalised groups and interrogating systemic power structures through mixed methods to further social justice and human rights." After marginalised groups, who had previously been ignored in evaluation, began to collaborate with academics to advocate for social justice and human rights in evaluation, the transformative paradigm emerged. The transformative paradigm brings many different paradigms and lenses to bear on the evaluation process, causing it to be constantly questioned.

When conducting evaluations, both the American Evaluation Association and the National Association of Social Workers emphasise the ethical obligation to be culturally competent. Cultural competence in evaluation is a systemic, response inquiry that is actively cognizant, understanding, and appreciative of the cultural context in which the evaluation takes place; that frames and articulates the evaluation endeavor's epistemology; that employs culturally and contextually appropriate methodology; and that uses stakeholder-generated, interpretive means to arrive at the results and further use of the findings. Many health and evaluation leaders are quick to point out that cultural competence is a trait that develops over time, not something that can be measured with a simple checklist. Cultural competency in evaluation is founded on a genuine respect for the communities being studied and an eagerness to learn more about different cultural contexts, practises, and paradigms of thought. This includes being inventive and adaptable in order to capture various cultural contexts, as well as heightened awareness of power imbalances in the evaluation context. Ability to build rapport across differences, gain the trust of community members, and self-reflect and recognise one's own biases are all important skills.


Axiology, ontology, epistemology, and methodology are paradigms that reflect social justice in evaluation. These examples emphasise promoting inclusion and equality in human rights to address societal inequalities and injustices.

Axiology (Values and Value Judgements) 

The transformative paradigm's axiological assumption rests on four primary principles:
  1. The importance of being culturally respectful 
  2. The promotion of social justice 
  3. The furtherance of human rights 
  4. Addressing inequities

Ontology (Reality) 

Diverse values and life experiences determine different perspectives on what is real. As a result, differences in access to privilege are frequently associated with factors such as disability, gender, sexual identity, religion, race/ethnicity, national origins, political party, income level, age, language, and immigration or refugee status.

Epistemology (Knowledge)

Knowledge is constructed in the context of power and privilege, and which version of knowledge is given privilege has consequences. "Knowledge exists in a complex cultural context, both socially and historically."

Methodology (Systematic Inquiry) 

Methodological decisions are made with the goal of determining the best approach for using the process and findings to improve social justice; identifying the systemic forces that support the status quo and those that will allow change to occur; and acknowledging the need for a critical and reflexive relationship between the evaluator and the stakeholders.


It is critical to be able to see the world through the eyes of those who are affected by injustices when working for social justice. Critical Race Theory, Feminist Theory, and Queer/LGBTQ Theory are theoretical frameworks for how we believe others should think about providing justice to marginalised groups. These lenses allow each theory to be prioritised in addressing inequality.

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a branch of critical theory that focuses on racial and ethnic inequities. CRT's role, according to Daniel Solorzano, is to provide a framework for investigating and making visible those systemic aspects of society that allow racism's discriminatory and oppressive status quo to continue.

Feminist theory

Feminist theories are defined as "individual and institutional practises that have denied access to women and other oppressed groups, as well as ignored or devalued women."

Queer/LGBTQ theory

Queer/LGBTQ theorists challenge society's heterosexist bias in terms of power and discrimination against sexual orientation minorities. Due to the sensitivity of issues involving LGBTQ status, evaluators must be aware of safe ways to protect LGBTQ individuals' identities and ensure that discriminatory practises are exposed in order to achieve a more just society.

Government requirements

Because of the federal budget deficit, the Obama administration decided to take a "evidence-based approach" to government spending, which included rigorous programme evaluation methods. The President's 2011 Budget included funding for 19 government programme evaluations, including those for the Department of Education and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). By establishing effective evaluation networks and drawing on best practises, an inter-agency group achieves the goal of increasing transparency and accountability.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a six-step framework for evaluating public health programmes, which initially increased the focus on programme evaluation of government programmes in the United States. 

The following is the framework:
  • Engage stakeholders 
  • Describe the program. 
  • Focus the evaluation. 
  • Gather credible evidence. 
  • Justify conclusions. 
  • Ensure use and share lessons learned
The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which took effect in January 2019, added new requirements for federal agencies, including the appointment of a Chief Evaluation Officer. According to the Office of Management and Budget's guidance on implementing this law, agencies must develop a multi-year learning agenda that includes specific questions the agency wants to answer in order to improve strategic and operational outcomes. Agencies must also submit an annual evaluation plan outlining the specific evaluations they plan to conduct to address the learning agenda's questions.

Types of evaluation

There are many different approaches to program evaluation. Each serves a different purpose.
  • Utilization-Focused Evaluation 
  • CIPP Model of evaluation 
  • Formative Evaluation 
  • Summative Evaluation 
  • Developmental Evaluation 
  • Principles-Focused Evaluation 
  • Theory-Driven Evaluation 
  • Realist-Driven Evaluation 


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